This weekend I was with an interesting group of misfits on a short retreat focused on consciousness exploration and insight. There was a lot of time spent identifying negative stories that may no longer serve us going forward. One verbal trick the facilitator used to break negative habits is to replace “but” with “and” in most cases. I found it incredibly liberating and helpful. “But” tends to be an ending, to stop the thoughts, while “and…so” offers the opportunity to continue. Here are some common examples.
“That girl is so amazing, but she will probably not want to talk to me.” End of conversation.
“That girl is so amazing, and she will probably not want to talk to me, so If I am right, I don’t lose anything by trying.” Opportunity opens.
“I want a promotion at work, but I don’t have enough experience to get it.”
“I want a promotion at work, and I don’t have enough experience to get it, so I will Focus on building experience needed for a future promotion.”
“My father was an asshole, but I am sure he did the best he could.” making excuses, a justification for hurt.
“My father was an asshole, and I am sure he did the best he could, so I am going to do the best I can with my children and not dwell on how bad my parents were.” Turn a negative memory into motivation to do better now.
Saturday was Women’s Equality Day and it happened to fall just as the controversy about a memo from an employee of Google about female programmers is finally dying down. If the ancient Stoics were here they would have shaken their heads at that entire fiasco. First, they wouldn’t let the scribblings of anyone, let alone some random employee at a tech company, get them so upset. And second, they would have said to that random employee, “What the hell are you so worked up about, man?”
They would have disliked the memo because it tried to argue about averages, as if they mattered in any practical way. The Stoics had no time for that nonsense—they cared about the individual. They would have agreed with Theodore Roosevelt’s point when he was asked about the then controversial movement for women’s suffrage. He said he didn’t understand the big deal, because whatever differences there might have been between genders, it paled between the differences he saw between “men and other men.” Point being: It doesn’t matter what group anyone is a part of—it only matters what they do with their individual capacities and potentials.
The Stoics were shockingly early to the notion of equality of the sexes. As Musonius Rufus put it, “not men alone, but women too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these.” More important, they believed that everyone and anyone was capable of excellence, regardless of station, origin, or gender. Epictetus was a slave, Marcus was emperor, Cato’s daughter was a woman and so was Seneca’s mother Helvia, who he wrote often about Stoicism—all were expected to rise to their particular occasions and we admire them because they did.
The next time you find yourself drawn into some idiotic debate about racial differences, about gender, about immigration, about identity, resist the mistake of applying labels and make judgements from them. There are brilliant men out there and utterly incompetent ones. There are brilliant women and utterly incompetent ones. (And this is true for every other kind of category.) We are all equal in that way. The only inequality that matters—that we should judge people on—is what they do as an individual.
I have got to admit I am a big fan of this Pope. Very early in his papacy he was asked why he wasn’t talking about traditionally thorny issues like abortion, priest abuse and gays in the church. He replied ” who am I to judge?” Many were stunned. Isn’t the Pope the one who judges us here on earth? Actually no. Only god judges in the end. This pope has really focused on being humble (very Jesuit trait) and helping others. His talk focuses on reminding us all of our common humanity in a time of extreme divisions. While spiritual it is not a “Catholic” ideological pitch. It is reminding us of universal truths and the value of kindness, humility and our common human journey. Very timely and useful.